Wednesday, July 24, 2024

FIBA: Ify Okoro is able to lead Nigeria on the 2024 Paris Olympics

Ifunanya Okoro has been with the Nigerian nationwide group since she was 16. She got here up via the system, performed 3×3 basketball, moved to Kenya and now, at age 25, she’s one of many prime Nigerian ladies’s gamers. Final 12 months, she moved to Europe—to Iceland—the place she averaged 17.8 factors, 7.7 rebounds and a couple of.4 steals per sport. She talked to us about her profession up to now, her enhancements and her group’s possibilities on the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

How did you get into basketball? And when did you begin?

I received into basketball in 2014. I began when one in every of my pals invited me to a basketball camp. So I simply casually went there to observe the sport, after which after I received there I used to be like, “Ohh, ladies play basketball too!” In order that was how I received . Then I registered with the Hope for Women Academy.

You’re one in every of over 16 million individuals who stay within the Lagos metro space. What’s the basketball tradition like there?

I might say in the entire of Nigeria, Lagos and Abuja have essentially the most top-level athletes. Everybody needs to come back to Lagos to play basketball as a result of that’s the place a lot of the issues are occurring, the place the competitions are occurring, the camps. Now we have… I believe 5 – 6 feminine groups from Lagos.

And what’s the standing of girls’s basketball in Nigeria? Is it on an upswing or is it sort of steadily rising?

Yeah, I might say it’s steadily rising, like, because the years go by. In Africa, we have now this mentality that the feminine baby is just not presupposed to be into sport and all these issues. So now it’s rising as a result of now they’re seeing that feminine kids are literally doing good in sports activities. So now that extra females are coming, sports activities is rising and it simply retains going like that.

What about your mother and father? Had been they supportive or did it’s a must to persuade them to will let you play?

Yeah, I needed to persuade them. I actually needed to persuade them.

And now? Are they supportive? You’re enjoying for the nationwide group, in order that they should be very proud.

Yeah. Yeah. They’re satisfied. They’re very supportive now.

You performed basketball in Nigeria up till 2022. And then you definately moved to Kenya. Why?

It was me simply eager to step out and check out one thing completely different as a result of I received to some extent after I was like, “Now I must go outdoors to expertise the sport from a unique perspective.” I actually wished to go outdoors of Nigeria to play and that’s how I received the chance to play in Kenya. And I might say the basketball in Kenya, it’s not likely completely different from the basketball in Nigeria. It’s simply that they’re a bit bit extra bodily than we’re right here in Nigeria, , and the referees are like, “Simply play on.” So yeah, I might say that’s that’s the solely distinction there. Slightly bit extra bodily than Nigerian basketball.

This 12 months you moved to Iceland. That should have been a tradition shock for you.

Once I first received to Iceland, it wasn’t snowing but. I received there in October. However nonetheless, coming from Nigeria, we have now like 28 levels Celsius in October, , and also you go there and it’s like 4 levels Celsius. Within the winter, you will have -10 levels Celsius. And I used to be like, “Oh, my God.” However the chilly was the one factor that was completely different for me, as a result of the individuals there, they’re so pretty. They’re so good and welcoming. The ladies actually made me really feel welcome. They made me really feel like I used to be part of the group. So yeah, it was it was actually a pleasant expertise for me.

And why Iceland, out of all of the locations? Ever heard of Spain? Portugal? Greece?

So I met with my agent final 12 months, in August. He was like, “Oh, it’s very late to get a job now, as a result of a lot of the groups have already recruited.” So he was identical to, “OK, simply go along with this one now and from there we are able to see what we get subsequent 12 months.” The aim for me truly is to play basketball to the very best stage and I really feel like for me to do this, I’ve to play in numerous environments and to have the ability to modify and adapt, to assist my sport develop to the extent I need to play in. And I felt enjoying right here in Africa wouldn’t get me there. So I really feel like me enjoying elsewhere, it’s simply going to construct me to change into the individual I need to be.

And also you additionally performed 3×3 basketball. Actually, you first performed on the Nigerian nationwide group as a 3×3 participant. How did enjoying that kind of sport enable you develop as a participant?

I might say, being robust, , as a result of it’s a must to guard anyone consistently. So the toughness, the agility, to consider in your self, as a result of it’s simply the three of you, so it’s a must to depend on your self. So, 3×3 actually helped me develop my psychological toughness. Simply maintain going till it’s over, ? By no means surrender. , even after I’m down, I do know I’ve to simply maintain going till the whistle is being sounded.

You bought your first sport on the 5×5 group through the 2023 AfroBasket event and Nigeria was once more the most effective group on the continent. How did it really feel to win gold to your nation?

I might say it was actually large for me as a result of rising up, everybody needs to play for his or her nationwide group. I felt very, very blessed and grateful and really appreciative of my teammates as a result of it was a group effort. Previous to us successful, Nigeria had received three-straight titles. And with successful the fourth, I used to be like, “Wow, I’m a part of this nice program and was capable of maintain the successful streak going.” So I felt actually, actually blessed simply to be among the many great girls that received.


Okoro defends Jewell Loyd within the sport between Nigeria and the USA on the 2024 FIBA Ladies’s Olympic Qualifying Event in Antwerp.
Picture by DIRK WAEM/BELGA MAG/AFP through Getty Pictures

The stress was on you throughout AfroBasket. And was it comparable through the Olympic qualifiers in Belgium? You performed Belgium, Senegal and the USA.

Going to the Olympic qualifiers, our coach simply instructed us we have to win one sport after which we had off. So successful the primary sport, it was like, , we already received it. So within the different video games, our strategy was like, “Let’s simply attempt to see what we are able to do about it.” However that first sport we felt the stress to win. In opposition to Senegal, we felt stress.

You win that sport by seven factors. Was there a second that you just guys have been afraid that you just wouldn’t make it?

Yeah. I believe in direction of the third quarter, that they had the lead and we have been like, “Let’s focus. For this reason we got here right here for this sport.” , we simply saved grounded as a result of through the third quarter, the sport was very, very shut. Now we have to do that for one another after which we simply saved preventing, preventing until the top.

Within the subsequent sport, you performed 20 minutes in opposition to Crew USA. As a defensive specialist, who did you guard?

Let’s see… I guarded Kelsey Plum. I guarded Jackie Younger. And Jewell Loyd. I might say guarding them was completely different for me, as a result of that was the primary time enjoying on that sort of stage and enjoying in opposition to that caliber of gamers. I needed to shake off some jitters, however after I received into the sport and received snug, I did my factor. They actually motivated me to simply maintain going as a result of they run the ground very well and the whole lot. So it was simply doing what I understand how to do, maintain them in entrance of me and yeah, that was it.

What can we basketball followers count on out of your group through the Olympics?

We get pleasure from basketball and we’re coming to place a stamp on our title, , simply to make Africa proud. Take it one sport at a time. Simply concentrate on executing. That’s the factor. We’re simply gonna come and do our factor and attempt to win as a lot video games as we are able to.

A particular thanks to Thomas Prodromou of Flash Company for arranging the interview.

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